OMAHA, Neb. — Hudson Randall and the Florida baseball team seemingly had Texas under control Saturday night in the College World Series as the Gators fought back for an 8-4 win to advance to the winner’s bracket.
The problem was, the Gators (51-17) didn’t have themselves under control and committed two costly errors that led to three unearned runs that gave the Longhorns a 3-0 lead in the third inning.
With Texas ace Taylor Jungmann on the mound, the Gators’ chances started to look bleak.
“I was awfully proud of the way we battled back,” Florida head coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “We gave up those three runs there in the 3rd. Uncharacteristically made a couple of errors. I didn’t have a really good feeling at that point, to be honest with you, facing the first-rounder and the guys had a ton of success this year.”
True to season form, Randall wasn’t rattled by the rough inning and proceeded to retire 13 consecutive batters to earn the victory in the Gators’ 8-4 win against UT in front of a record crowd of 25,551 at TD Ameritrade Park.
“Sully always tells me if you give up one, don’t give up another,” Randall said. “Always stop the bleeding where it’s at. That was my main focus coming out there. I kind of slipped up when I got 0-2 on that batter trying to bunt, bunted him over, and he ended up getting a hit. But after that, they weren’t getting really good swings on me throughout the game. I was just trusting my stuff, throwing strikes, trying to get out of it with the least amount of damage as possible.”
Randall (11-3) dominated Texas (49-18) until being lifted in the seventh inning after allowing pair of two-out hits that cut the Gators’ lead to one run.
“When the offense came back, we made it a tie game, ended up going by one, my confidence grew and I was able to just attack the hitters more,” Randall said. “I wasn’t trying to pitch to the corners too much. I knew we could score at any time. I was just trying to make quick innings out of there, go one, two, three, get us back into the dugout to score more runs.”
Texas coach Augie Garrido credited Randall with seizing control of the game.
“Once (Randall) got the lead back, he settled down and became more competitive,” Garrido said. “And he found his rhythm. We took him out of rhythm in that one inning, capitalized on all the opportunities we had. We had him off balance a bit in that inning. But his team rallied right back, which good teams do, got him to within one. He had a good inning the next inning against us, and they got him two more to put him ahead and it reestablished his confidence, and he took off from there. He really gained momentum and confidence and took charge of the game.”
Florida junior pitcher Greg Larson struck out the final batter of the inning. Junior Nick Maronde recorded three strikeouts in a two-inning save to close the game and secure the Gators’ first-ever win against Texas.
Jungmann (13-3) struggled with control after the lengthy third inning when the Longhorns were scoring and allowed two runs when he walked the first two batters of the inning on nine pitches.
“I think probably in the third inning I got out of rhythm,” Jungmann said. “Once I got out of rhythm, made some bad pitches. I felt like I set them up to have some opportunities to score runs. I walked more guys than I usually do. And, I mean, they took advantage of it.”
Florida senior Bryson Smith singled to drive in the Gators’ first run, then a passed ball allowed Nolan Fontana to score.
The Gators tacked on two more runs in the fourth inning on back-to-back doubles by Daniel Pigott and Cody Dent.
“It was definitely a very, very big win for us,” Pigott said. “We came here last year and we were very disappointed to go two and done, so to start out this way, having a great game, good pitching, solid hitting, I think it was very, very big for us. It’s definitely going to give us a lot of confidence going through the rest of the tournament. Texas is a very good team; and going into the game on Monday, I think we’re going to have a lot more confidence because of it.”
Florida junior Preston Tucker started at first base, where he was a member of the All-SEC Defensive Team before moving to right field this season. Tucker hit an RBI double of off UT reliever Hoby Miler to drive in the eventual winning run.
UF piled on two more runs in the seventh inning when sophomore designated hitter Brian Johnson appeared to hit a home run to right-center field. The ball hit over the wall, but bounced back onto the field and was ruled a double.
“Sully talked to me before the at-bat,” Johnson said. “He said it’s going to be a big at-bat for the game. So I just went up there really looking for one pitch I could drive. And I ended up getting that pitch.”
Johnson missed the Gators’ last eight games after sustaining a concussion on May 28.
“ I was really excited to get back out there after three weeks not being able to play,” Johnson said. “I thought after my first at-bat went by it didn’t feel like it happened. I was really excited to get back out there.”
After the game, NCAA umpire coordinator Gene McArtor issued a statement that read “The batted ball in the bottom of the seventh inning was mistakenly ruled in play rather than a home run that did clear the yellow line of the outfield fence (the ball must completely clear the yellow line, not hit the yellow line to be called a home run). The umpires did and are allowed to conference to determine if any others of the crew had different information, which they did not. The umpires do not have the ability for video review.”
O’Sullivan was given an explanation by the umpires after they conferenced, but accepted the mistake since it didn’t cost the Gators the game.
“I just think it’s part of the game,” O’Sullivan said. “I thought it went out. But you don’t know. It’s a tough call. But it’s just one of those things that didn’t have an outcome on the game; and, like I said, it didn’t have any outcome.”
Smith drove in his second run of the game on a single in the eighth inning. Smith also made a spectacular running catch in center field earlier in the game.
“We recruited him as an infielder,” O’Sullivan said. “I feel kind of stupid we didn’t play him in the outfield last year. That was a key catch of the ballgame.”
Florida will face Vanderbilt on Monday at 7 p.m. ET (ESPN2). The Commodores defeated North Carolina earlier on Saturday and will be the home team against the Gators.
O’Sullivan and Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin served as assistant coaches together at Clemson in 2002 and remain close friends.
The Gators are expected to start freshman righthander Karsten Whitson (8-0, 2.45 ERA) while the Commodores will start junior lefthander Grayson Garvin (13-1, 2.36 ERA). Garvin was the Southeastern Conference pitcher of the year.